The first couple times I listened to It Should Be Us was in my car. I drive a 2003 Ford Focus. It’s starting to rust a bit, there’s no AC, it shakes violently when I brake, and the radio doesn’t have any Bluetooth or aux input. Tired of radio and my steady rotation of Kate Bush and Wu-Tang CDs, I recently bought an FM transmitter to connect my phone to the car’s radio. The device works by hijacking dead FM channels; the music coming from my phone has a steady thrum of static and FM interference in the background. The radio also has a strange bug where the signal dips in and out randomly, pockmarking silence across whatever is playing. If I turn on the heat in my car, a ghostly ticking rises from the speakers.
Anyone already familiar with Andy Stott’s screwed-up techno probably knows where I’m going with this. Despite the obvious drawbacks of my listening situation, it proved to be the perfect mode for digesting It Should Be Us. Here, Stott’s signature tropes (degraded synths, resolute drums, spacious vocal samples) are rendered economically; he seems to be consciously drawing attention to the limits of his setup, relishing the imperfections and accidents. This hazy focus that Stott affords himself on It Should Be Us exposes the tension between the material and ethereal at the heart of his work.
Stott’s mottled fragments of opiate club music, despite their frequent ethereality, have a distinctly physical quality. His productions, more than ever on It Should… remind the listener that they are indeed produced; they depend on material processes and objects. It makes perfect sense that Stott’s first releases were inspired by the din of the Mercedes garage he worked in. Even now, his music has a mechanical quality, readily apparent on a track like “019” which arranges a gallery of cycling voices around a pumping, machinic drum motif.
Although Stott’s mechanical sure-handedness is essential to his music’s function, It Should Be Us is filtered through a decidedly languorous, psychedelic gaze. Tracks like Ballroom and the title track, although full of jittery drums and beyond-saturated bass lines, are imbued with a gauzy playfulness. This sense is due in no small part to Stott’s reliably off-kilter ear for melody; obscured synth lines and vocal samples weave in and out of the mix with a stoned ease, emotive but never melodramatic.
In an era when experimental music has embraced extremes, Andy Stott continues to exhibit a balanced, intentionally limited approach. Perfect for malfunctioning car-radio listening, this new album finds him rocking his heels further into the muddy ground he’s made home.